The Happiness of Non-Human Friendships

I lost a very special friend over the Thanksgiving holiday. He and I had a 16-year relationship and we spent time every day cuddling, and sharing meals and walks. He was someone with whom I could share my deepest fears and secrets. He was there for me whenever I needed him. I learned so much from my friend about courage, generosity and strength. I loved him dearly.

My husband was not the least bit jealous or threatened by this relationship because my dear friend was my cat, Mistoffolese.  For over thirty years, Gary and I have shared our home with cats. All were at one time strays or kittens of a stray, or shelter cats. We’ve also had a few dogs, fish tanks, hamsters, gerbils and two praying mantis named Ramsesses and Moses. However many of these creatures lived with us, cats have always been big part of our life together.

Pets are good for your health and happiness. Researchers tell us that pet owners live a few years longer and visit the doctor less often. People who share their lives with a dog or cat have lower blood pressure and higher levels of serotonin. Dog owners in particular tend to be more active because of the demands of daily walks. (Although, I’ve had a few cats who insisted on having a daily walk, too.)

People who have animals in their life recover faster when they are sick and have longer survival rates after a serious diagnosis such as cancer or heart disease. Even something like a fish tank or a bird can help people feel more relaxed.

For all of these benefits and more, I choose to have stains on my carpets and tiny pricks in my grass weave wallpaper. I don’t even mind the claw marks on my kitchen cabinets. And when I put the tree up next weekend, I know there will be a few of the younger members of our household who will be sure to climb it and chase a few ornaments. I don’t care.  What I have, I share with the ones I love most and that includes my furrier friends.

My animal relationships aren’t limited to the indoors. I have friendships with some of the creatures that share the property I call mine. They were here long before this house was built. Perhaps they are the ones who share with me, so I try to be a good neighbor to them.

I plant extra herbs for the caterpillars and butterfly bushes for after the metamorphous.  I have blueberry bushes, but the squirrels and birds usually beat me to the berries every spring. I know when I plant the tomatoes and other vegetables; the raccoons and deer will probably get most of the fruits of my labors.  I have made peace with this. I can go to the grocery for more. They cannot. The relationship I have formed with the animals matters more to me than a tomato no matter how red and delicious.

I never look at these non-human creatures as my pets. They are my friends and guides to a deeper and truer love. They have taught me how to connect without words and how to sense the world around me. They have shown me how to see the world from a different perspective. (purrspective?) Each relationship has given me more than I gave in return.

This was especially true of my friend Mistoffolese. I have known very few people who knew how to love as completely as this very special cat.  I will miss him and all that he brought to my life.

This holiday season consider opening your home to a shelter animal. So many dogs and cats need a loving home and many shelters offer specials at this time of year on adoption and vet fees.

Nurture Your Spirit

Our brains are designed to have a spiritual connection according to Andrew Newberg, M.D, Director of the Center of Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. Whether that is a believe in a Higher Presence or simply that you are part of something more, you will be happier when you attend to your spiritual needs. Research shows that the happiest people have an active faith. Here are a few ways to connect to your spirit starting today:

Quiet reflection for a few minutes every day allows time for your mind to stop and process the day’s events and your reactions to those events. Take ten minutes daily to quietly reflect and you’ll be happier and sleep better.
Create a Happier Life
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. In recent decades it has been studied extensively and the benefits are astounding. You can lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system and add as much as 15 years to your life span. Psychological benefits include relief from depression, anxiety and increased emotional stability. Many yoga studios, wellness centers and cardiac rehab programs offer classes on meditation practices.
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Prayer has been shown to accelerate healing and has many of the physical and psychological benefits of meditation. This is especially true for prayers of gratitude.
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Listening to music can be inspirational and lift your spirits. It doesn’t have to be hymns or church music. Any style that sounds uplifting to you can lighten the darkest moods.
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While listening to that music, sing along, especially to inspirational songs or songs of love. Singing is another instant happiness-maker with the added benefit of feeling a deeper spiritual connection.
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Laughter heals both the body and the mind, boosting your immune responses and lifting spirits. When you least feel like it, this is the very moment you most need to break out into laughter. Better still, laugh will your friends and family today and no matter what is going on in your life, you’ll feel happier.
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Many religions use the practice of chanting to slow racing thoughts and refocus attention. Native Americans add a slow steady drum beat. A simple statement repeated rhythmically for several minutes can reset your body’s metabolism to a slower pace. An example might be, “I am grateful to God for all of my blessings.” Repeat this for several minutes and you’ll feel a little calmer, more relaxed and happier.
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Walking in nature is very calming and a way to remind yourself of the beauty that is always around you, if you take a few minutes to stop and notice. Many people feel the strongest connection to their spirit when they are in nature.
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Inspirational reading is another common practice of the happiest people. Filling your mind with positive, uplifting thoughts helps you see the world from an inspired perspective.
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Studying or just reading the sacred scriptures of the major religions of the world not only strengthens your faith, it can help you understand the perspectives of other people of faith. You might be surprised how much we all have in common and you’ll feel better about the world around you.
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The happiest people avoid negative and depressing media and books. They’re protective about what they put into their thoughts and choose only the things that help them feel good about themselves and their life. If you are feeling down, be careful about what you listen to, read and watch.
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Take a yoga class for beginners. This ancient style of movement meditation is good for your body and your mind. Movement meditations are good for people who have trouble sitting still. Aligning your body and mind helps you become more aware of the tension in your body. Concentrating on those tense areas can help you release the stress in your mind.
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Tai Chi is a martial art that originated as a practice for warriors to improve muscle memory for combat techniques. Its slow, steady movements are also an excellent movement meditation. Classes are available at community centers and martial arts studios.
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Qi Gong is another type of movement meditation that originated in China. It’s a practice that aligns your breath with the movement of your body. This practice is useful in lowering stress levels and blood pressure. You’ll find classes at community centers and the wellness centers of many hospitals, particularly cardiac rehab programs.
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Creative expression such as flower arranging, writing poetry or painting is considered a spiritual practice in some religions. This practice involves expressing your appreciation of God through art. Spend a little time getting creative to feel empowered in your life.
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Read the next chapter: Quick Happiness Makeovers

 

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